An era ended at closing time on Saturday 4th January, 2020, as the Fitzpatrick family closed the doors at the Borough stalwart, the Lord Clyde, for the last time. The pub had been in the family for 63 years, since Denis and Molly took over the tenancy in 1956. Three generations of the family have overseen the beer, buzz and bonhomie of one of London’s great backstreeters.
Yes, it has opened again, with the new custodians keeping their promise not to change the Clyde’s traditional charm – just bringing the toilets and kitchen into the 21st century. But what are the chances of there being an in-pub bookie at the bar to take your bets, as there used to be not long ago?
The Clyde has been one of Deserter’s favourite pubs in London for watching the Cheltenham Festival. But it was more than a familiar place to watch sports. It was also our go-to pub in times of crisis.
7/7 London Bombings
Many Londoners remember where they were when four zealots detonated homemade bombs on London Transport in 2005, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700. I was buying magic mushrooms in Camden Town, days before they became class A drugs, determined to make the most of what time I had left to easily access mind-bending fungi.
The suicide bombers killed Londoners from 18 different countries in response to ‘democratically-elected governments [who] continuously perpetuate (sic) atrocities against [Muslims] all over the world’.
The war in Iraq was a key provocation, a war that many Britons, including myself, opposed, and the latest in a long line of British military follies. I was hacked off at our Government too. But I didn’t kill everyone. I bought a bag of walloping shrooms.
When I tried to leave Camden that morning, I found the Tube and mobile networks down, as the capital reeled from the attacks. I say reeled, but the primary response seemed to be: Go to the pub and watch the news with a pint.
I had to walk from Camden to the Elephant to catch a bus home to Charlton, where I took in the developing story of the atrocity. Dire warnings told people not to travel unless absolutely necessary. Then I got an email from Osman to me, the Dulwich Raider and Spider, with a necessary-travel klaxon.
‘To the Clyde, immediately, to discuss our response to this terrorist outrage!’
The rolling news was on the screens of the Clyde too, screens that were more used to football and horses. We had carnage fatigue by this point though, and, despite feeling slightly uncomfortable asking, requested they change the channel to the 3.40 at Newmarket.
And strange as it may seem, we began to enjoy ourselves. A lot.
Osman had brought an exciting Kiwi colleague, The Denton, who fielded calls from home making sure she was OK. All incoming calls seemed to be from abroad. Londoners didn’t seem to bother checking on each other, with a combination I recognised as stoicism, Blitz spirit and sheer laziness.
The Denton was slightly incredulous at the response of Londoners to the attack. No drama, no panic. Why not have a pint?
‘Everyone’s just gone to the pub. Yeah, the pub. No, no one gives a shit. They’re off work and having a beer, watching the racing.’
Of course there were many people who would be unable to move on, who had lost loved ones, or suffered trauma. We couldn’t realistically help them. We did what we do best. We went to the boozer, had a good time and made new friends.
But the Clyde wasn’t all about crisis management. There was lovely Mary behind the bar, with a twinkle in her Irish eyes, plus Lucy and her son, Martin, always with a welcome. And on Sundays, we might see Jess, late of The Roxy, pulling pints with aplomb.
As one of the best places in South London to watch the nags, it was the horse racing that first drew us to the Clyde, though. Cheltenham week was something special there, packed and feverish. A bookie would perch on the bar taking bets, paying out money but mostly making bundles.
One year, the Raider, Spider, Osman and I gathered there for Gold Cup day – the four horsemen of the ahopalypse. Spider was pretty broke and under strict instructions from his girlfriend to only bet on whatever the Raider backed – so strong was his betting record. Ever the contrarian, Spider ignored orders and bet on whatever he fancied. Frustrated that the Raider was winning yet again and he was losing yet again, he focussed his attention on the bookie, who was of course doing very well.
‘I could do that,’ he figured. ‘Don’t bet with him, bet with me.’
The Raider was about to bet on the favourite, Big Eared Fran, on the next race, when Spider suggested: ‘What about Andytown at 25/1? Don’t you want a little flutter on that, Andy?’
‘Go on, then,’ said Andy Raider. ‘A fiver on the nose.’
Spider watched in disbelief as Andytown romped home by nine lengths. He had arrived at the Clyde on his uppers but with £10 to spend and a hope of breaking even. He left owing £125 for a bet he suggested. He’d done the exact opposite to what he’d been told, by betting against the Raider. And he still had to face his girlfriend, half his age, yet twice as wise.
The Raider had won again, but so had the Clyde.
Who was Lord Clyde?
Is there a greater honour than having a pub named after you? Society may think so, but society is wrong. The pub affords a kind of immortality that a knighthood never could, even if virtually no one in the building under your name has a clue who you were. Who knows who the Marquis of Granby was, for instance? He, Lieutenant-General John Manners, was so appalled by the lack of help given to soldiers injured in service that he helped them buy pubs so they could earn a living. That’s why there are still around 30 pubs named after him in the UK. (And also why he died massively in debt.)
There have been a few Lord Clyde pubs, all named after Colin Campbell, the 1st Baron Clyde (1792-1863), famed for his leadership and his rise from the humble rank of Ensign (a junior commissioned officer) to Field Marshal.
He fought in the Peninsular War and commanded troops in the Crimean War, both Opium Wars and the Second Anglo-Sikh War before becoming Commander-in Chief of India. He would have been responsible for quite a lot of killing, but that was how you achieved fame back then, in the absence of Love Island.
We tend not to learn about the more shameful parts of our history, which is disappointing as they’re often more interesting than the triumphs. Of all the examples of Britain thinking it was the good guy, whilst behaving like the world’s primary wankers, the Opium Wars take some beating.
Basically, we went to war with China (twice) because they tried to stop us selling their people smack. We bought their silk, porcelain and tea, and in return we sold them opium that we grew in our back garden in Bengal. It reversed the trade deficit and got lots of Chinese addicted.
We sent the Navy in when the Qing dynasty tried to outlaw the junk, and, over the course of two wars, defeated China on behalf of the drug traffickers and forced them to hand over Hong Kong. Lord Clyde was involved in both Opium Wars, but you could say he was ‘only following orders’. He, like all of us, was a product of the times. And his times were mental.
In fact, he did stand up against barbarism at least once, when he resigned in disgust at being asked to lead a punitive invasion of the Swat Valley (modern day Pakistan), so he can’t have been a complete cunt. Which is nice.
The New Clyde
On February 4th, a new dawn fell on the Clyde as it opened its doors once again, under the first change in management since mastodons roamed The Borough. I am happy to report that virtually nothing has changed.
The family may have left, but the rest of the staff are still here, providing familiar faces to the returning regulars. They’re joined by Tom, from the Marquis of Wellington in Bermondsey, who has brought beer from his old neighbours, the award-winning Anspach & Hobday. And, in a bit of a coup, two of the three A&H beers are on cask, including The Lord Clyde Bitter, an ‘ordinary’ brewed especially for this hostelry.
The other addition is the pub dog, Jenson, a Bedlington Terrier. A fierce beast as you can see.
So, it’s worth remembering that in times of crisis, great change or upheaval, a pub awaits, where you can still have a fucking great time. While we salute the old Clyde, we welcome the new.
A version of this article was published by Sabotage Times in December, 2013.